Published on March 9th, 2017 | by OBN Staff
Feature: Why is the 355ml beer can coming back?
The 355s are coming
Following a major shift from the beer bottle to 473ml cans over the last few years, Ontario craft breweries are now adding the once-ubiquitous 355ml can (355s) to their stock.
Many brewers, depending on beer style, are moving bottles to cans primarily because of improved shelf life, stability and seal, portability at up to 30% lighter, a larger artwork surface, and a preferred size at retail (LCBO).
But, why 355ml? Benefits such as sessionability and controlling consumption, portability, extended variety and lowering consumer price point, staying chilled longer, and even mirroring brewers in the US, says polled brewers.
It’s certainly not a new size – at all, but it’s now trending again in Ontario.
Just recently, a pair of Ontario’s largest craft brewers – Beau’s Brewing Co. and Muskoka Brewery – announced, to enthusiastic reception, the addition of the 355ml can for a selection of their core brands such as Lug Tread Lagered Ale and Detour and Craft Lager, respectively.
Meanwhile, Steam Whistle Brewery has had its Pilsner in 355ml cans for six years. “[We] launched our 355ml can in the summer 2011, and I believe we were the first small brewer in Ontario to do so and were alone on that front for a while,” says Sybil Taylor, Communications Director.
Taylor continues, “… funny to see that preference for cans was at that time 36.6% nationally where I know it has crossed over to the majority of sales now (55+% nationally). The smaller can format also helped us being the exclusive beer supplier to Porter Airlines since our tall cans were not fitting very well in their beverage carts.”
While Steam Whistle may have been the first recent-era Ontario craft brewer filling 355s, Gavin Anderson of London’s Anderson Craft Ales, which opened in August 2016, is currently one of two Ontario brewers dedicated solely to 355s.
Anderson explains,”I’ve always found 355 ml cans to be a more sessionable size. I’m much more likely to reach for a second beer after having a can then after a tallboy. [it] has been the preferred can size in the US and in every other province in Canada for craft beer. I think there has always been a demand for them, but the market in Ontario has been shaped by existing breweries and pressure from the LCBO to an extent.”
Ottawa’s Tooth and Nail Brewing Co. started out with 355ml cans and never looked back. “I’m sure there is a novelty factor for some people, but overall I think many people just prefer the size,” says co-founder Dayna Guy. “We live in Ontario where the LCBO has essentially mandated uniformity once again, even though selection is at an all-time best. It doesn’t leave a ton of room for creativity or thinking outside of the box – we are the land of the 473ml can. I think a lot of beer drinkers almost forgot that there was another option.”
Jeff Rogowsky, owner of Ontario’s first mobile canning service, Sessions Craft Canning, has now worked with 34 local brewers and cideries canning all sizes. He says inquiries for 355ml cans are increasing for a variety of reasons.
From the perspective of Beau’s Brewing Co., co-founder Steve Beauchesne says, “we had a few festivals insist on a can instead of draft, and felt we had to move to this format. For us, it adds two types of customers, the ones that can’t use a bottle format and because our only bottle size is large, it will hopefully also appeal to those who want a smaller serving size (as weird as that sounds!).”
At Muskoka Brewery, keeping tabs south of the border to see what’s up in the “bigger beer world” is key, notes Todd Lewin, VP Sales & Marketing. His brewery has been planning a shift to 355s since November 2016, and feels it’s best suited to sessionable brands. Lewin explains, “the shift from bottles to cans has really accelerated for Muskoka over the past two years as people continue to gravitate to this format. [It] Lines up with our brewery values of continuing to Venture Off The Beaten Path and offer our beer drinkers something new.”
Rainhard Brewing Co. in Toronto recently added its Armed ‘N Citra APA and Unfiltered Pilsner into 355ml cans. “Jordan had been planning to introduce 473mL cans, but when I came on board in June 2016 I convince him that the market was on the verge of shifting toward 355s and we should try to get on top of that,” says Derek Harrison. “Admittedly, I was biased by a personal preference, but also encouraged by time spent in Quebec, Michigan and Australia, where tallboys have fallen out of fashion in favour of 355s, and I believe that this is a global market trend that is inevitable in Ontario.”
Seaforth’s Half Hours on Earth has started liquidating off its 500ml bottle inventory to prepare for a move to 355s, slated to come out in the next 2-4 weeks. Owner Kyle Teichert explains, “We would have started with the 355ml can if we could have, but it wasn’t in the budget for the extra equipment at the time. We’re switching as we’ve always preferred the can format (works well for a variety of styles) and 355ml is just a great serving size, especially for higher abv beers.”
In Collingwood, Side Launch Brewing Co. has a German-style Helles in 355ml cans in June 2016.
Andrew Costa, Marketing Manager at Cool Beer Brewing Co. in Etobicoke notes their Millennium Buzz and Stonewall Light debuted in slim 355ml cans during 2013. “Most would agree that consumers feel rushed to consume their 473mL (tall boy) can quicker because they don’t want the end of their beer to go warm,” he says. Cool’s unique slim can helps makes them stand out from all beer can formats, according to Costa.
“We never even considered other packaging options”
In Toronto’s east, about-to-launch brewpub Eastbound Brewing Co. plans to stock all retail beer in 355ml cans. “We have always been big fans of the 355 ml can. In fact, when we started planning Eastbound, we never even considered other packaging options,” tells Adam Stiles, Brand Lead. “It also gives us the flexibility to put some bigger beers in a format that you don’t necessarily have to crack open only when you have someone to share it with like some big bottles. For the hop heavy beers, spiced or flavour forward beer it’s less of a commitment.”
Woodhouse Brewing Co., the sole contract brewer on this list, switched things up when it released its new IPA in 355s. “[it] is what I would call medium strength at 6.2% and 58 IBUs, so I wanted to try smaller serving size to see if it could help with volume,” tells Graham Woodhouse. “Also it’s just a natural progression as grocery has opened up more shelf space that isn’t so tied to the 473.”
Sessions Craft Canning says the same principles apply to filling both can sizes. “The challenge with a lot of breweries is that their existing canning line may not be set up with the parts necessary to be able to fill both sizes of cans, says Rogowsky. “We are fortunate with our mobile canning line whereas we have the flexibility to change from a 473ml can to 355ml can in about 30min and we have actually filled both a tall boy and a short guy on the same day before. Having this flexibility has been great and we are now in talks with a few breweries who have canning lines set for 473ml cans who want us to come in and just fill the 355ml ones.”
One of the primary setbacks in a larger retail setting could be at the LCBO which prefers the 473ml format.
In response, the LCBO says, “our customers at the LCBO have for a long time shown a preference for the tall can format, whether in local craft beer or in big national brands and imports. While the 355ml can is a smaller part of our sales it is growing, and we have had several local brewers make proposals for new listings in that format which we are currently evaluating,” according to Christine Bujold, Media Relations Coordinator.
For the best drinking experience, Crystal Luxmore, Cicerone, Beer Sommelier and co-founder of Beer Sisters, still recommends pouring the contents into proper glassware. Cans are best suited, she explains, for sporting events, concerts, around the yard or instead of plastic cups.
Although it’s not currently known how many Ontario brewers are now planning for or considering the 355ml format, it’s certainly on the radar. And, if recent sales and social media reaction is any indication, it’s hugely welcome by consumers (it’s also 236ml less when double-fisting cans (ha)).
Expect the 355ml format to keep on coming (probably with cider, too). Who’s next?
Care to vote?